On twenty years in design. Three years of Colourful. And in defence of 2016.


Contrary to the widely held view, 2016 hasn’t been all bad. This year marked my 20th year in the design industry which I think is worth a little reflection and maybe even celebration.

Broadly, I’ve spent the past two decades promoting and enabling design whether that’s been through design strategy, design management, marketing, writing or education. I’m not a designer in the classic sense, but design is my thing. Following art school, I found a job in museum design but developed a flair for client services that took me to communications agencies. There I discovered brand consultancy and never looked back.

It’s not easy making a career work for 20 years, the latter half of that alongside a family. Being a parent is exhausting and design is a fast-paced competitive industry. Early on I knew I needed a profession that would challenge me intellectually but work around my commitments. Following 17 years of employment in London design agencies, I decided to make a change. The only way I could keep learning, do my best work and balance life was to be my own boss, so my own practice Colourful Design Strategy was born in 2013.

An important group of people inspired and supported me through my two decades in design getting me to the happy place that 2016 has proved to be. In the early years Tim Lewis inspired me to find out more about brand strategy. More recently, clients Liz Keynes and Victoria Flint have been loyal supporters. Colleagues Peter Mills, Paul Marten, Katie Steel and Helen Holden have all been fabulous in different ways. Friends Anna Colquhoun and Claire Carlile have been great advocates. Angus Montgomery at Design Week was hugely encouraging. Mandy Saven has been fascinating and generous. Susanna Edwards had faith in me. And, very importantly, designer Phillip Southgate has been a wonderful collaborator proving that trustful teamwork really delivers.

Thank you all. Really.

So, what of 2016?

In the past 12 months, I’ve worked with diverse clients: the largest zoo in Wales Folly Farm, Icelandic gift brand Tulipop, membership body PACEY, and the innovative sustainability champion Bioregional. And I’ve delivered strategy and naming projects undercover at other creative agencies too (I call it Colourful’s White Label service). London Met Accelerator and Enterprise Nation invited me to give lectures. I’ve enjoyed creating and nurturing ‘Inventivity Studio’ as a visiting lecturer at The Cass. It was enriching working with Michael Johnson on his new book Branding. In Five and A Half Steps (buy it if you haven’t already). And I always find it rewarding to help prepare successful DBA Effectiveness Award submissions, this year for Brand Ethos and Family (and Friends).

Last week I discovered that an article on branding I wrote back in February became the fourth most-read article in Design Week of the year. Amazing news. So as 2016 draws to a close, despite the political shocks we might have had, and the celebs we might have lost, and even the ongoing nightmare that is Southern Railway, I’m feeling it has been a good year.

Perhaps the only thing you can be sure to control is what you do in your own world. For me, the promotion of design continues: demystifying, celebrating, facilitating, educating; joining up brand strategy and crafted design. It’s what I do. And long may it continue.

Merry Christmas from Colourful and a Happy New Year.

Illustration by Frost & Kin.